Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle Length???

I am trying to select the right length bent shaft paddle and am torn between a 50 and 52. I know that they are close, but I am a bit of a perfectionist.

I am paddling a Bell Magic, am 5’8, and use a 56 inch straight shaft in my kneeling boat.

So here is why I am torn…

With the 50 inch it appears that the blade is not being fully burried in the water, but when I paddle without looking at the blade (like at night) the paddle just feels good and feels like I am getting a very consistent catch and can distinctly feel the flex in the blade.

With the longer paddle it appears the blade is more fully burried, but seems less natural to achieve a nice vertical paddle shaft, and the balance of the paddle is not quite as good.

However, when paddling today in some chop the shorter paddle felt perhaps a bit too short which may make sense becuaes if you are on a wave you do have to reach farther to get to the water.

I guess another variable is that I don’t truly know what is “right” when it comes to hand placement of the shaft hand when using a bent shaft. That of course makes a big difference in terms of distance to reach to the water.

So should I err to the longer paddle…the shorter paddle…??? I know it’s a matter of preference and body size but wondering if anyone can give me any more insight that may assist me in the making this decision? Frankly I don’t know enough about the nuances of proper bent shaft stroke technique to truly be able to make the decision without a little help.

Also considering sticking with the 50 for flat water and using the 52 for choppy conditions…don’t know if this is a good idea or not.

thanks for your help


I paddle a magic with a 50" bent ZRE. Originally had it at 52" and that was just too long (sore shoulders and top hand too high). Unless I paddled with the shaft more horizontal or really buried the blade, then it was ok.

I’m 6’1" and according to all the info on measuring for paddle size I should be using one 4" longer. I did try a 55" just to see and it didn’t work.

I don’t have much experience with canoes so it could be that I’m doing it all wrong too, but it feels good. As for hand placement, I do what feels comfortable and what lets me get the whole blade in the water.


How about a 51"?

Are the two paddles exactly the same
model and construction and blade width? If not, then your comparisons are not just between the different lengths, but also between the different models/constructions or widths.

As an example, I have two 50" Wenonah Black Jack paddles, but one is 8.5" wide and one is 9" wide and there is a very obvious difference in feel between the two when paddling the same boat in the same conditions.

If using Zaverals, the two different length paddles must be in the same width and construction (weight) or it’s not a valid length comparison.

I usually use my 48" Medium Zaveral whether I’m sitting or kneeling and whether the seat is 4" off the floor or 8" off the floor, not because it’s the best lenght for the application, but because it’s my narrowest carbon bent shaft at 8.25" and the narrow blades usually work better for me.

My Zaveral Black Rec has a completely different feel than my Zav Medium and that different feel has as much to do with the weight balance and blade width differences as it does with the 3" difference in length.

You asked a question, and then you…
answered it with your last sentence.

The only thing that I can add is rather than use a longer paddle for chop, try to get used to the same length that you normally use since you never know when the wind will blow up a chop.

The only other thing is to bring along the longer one as a spare.

I have two ZRE’s; a regular width one, and a OR that I just got this year plus a regular older Black Bart.

Last Saturday I was in a 20 mile river race, and decided to use my Black Bart beater paddle since there is so many sand bars and logs in the river, and my OR as a spare. On the starting line I decided to change to the OR since the old Black Bart just felt to heavy.

We took 26 minutes off our time of two years ago, when the river level was almost the same. - the lesson here, is no matter how long you have been paddling, you never stop experimenting.



shaft hand
keep your shaft hand just above the blade. Spreading your hands farther apart eases strain.

Personally, if the 50 feels good, I would use 50’s.

Or if you are really torn, you can just follow string’s post.


– Last Updated: Sep-27-09 10:21 AM EST –

We all need more than one straight and one bent. Among other reasons, when tripping, the gear sinks the boat deeper in the water, so a shorter paddle is needed. This is more pronounced with bents, because the sweetspot where the blade squares to the stroke is closer to the body and the shaft more vertical in side view.

That 50 will submerge its blade, eliminating ventilation when you've camping gear further burdening the boat.

I've recently arrived at 5'8.5" after several decades at 5'10", but still use 58-60 in straights, so am interested in your 56" oal straight, How long is your blade?

check the shaft

– Last Updated: Sep-27-09 11:42 AM EST –

The overall length of the paddle is not what is important. The length of the paddle shaft is what you want to look at. If you start with a Zaveral bent that has the same length shaft as your straight, the overall paddle length will be shorter because the blade is shorter, not because there is a difference in shaft length.

Once you have the paddle, check to make sure the blade is buried in the water before you begin your stroke. If the blade goes too deep in the water, you will want to shorten the shaft a little bit. It is a very simple process and the instructions are on the Zaveral website.

You do not need a different paddle shaft length for different types of water conditions. For the small, closely spaced waves that tend to occur in your area, you will want to adust your paddle stroke so that you are applying power to the paddle when you are on the face of the wave or at the top of the wave so that you can get the paddle blade completely into the water. However, I do carry a straight shaft paddle with a long blade if I am expecting nasty conditions - the extra length can provide some much appreciated additional leverage. IIRC, I use a Grey Owl beaver tail.

You will want to make your maneuvering strokes when the boat is at the crest of the wave. If you try to do it when the boat is in the trough, the stems will both be stuck in a wave face. If you do it when the boat is at the crest, the stems are free and the boat will turn more easily.

…little of what CE was delving into…

– Last Updated: Sep-27-09 12:32 PM EST –

Just $.01_personal...
just a brief captainsmollett mentioned...
>Spreading your hands farther apart eases strain.

My forearms, by default;-), are just average musclebound-wise, thus opening up a little more distance between grip/shaft hands with a little more shaftlength increases my power/efficiency, but as mentioned...use your dimensions as test... Also avoid losing your skeletal power alignment during power/pull phase...people extending/dropping their shoulder/arm lose that skeletal strength and instead substitute shoulder/elbow overusage without any support from their back muscles....something like the extended highbracing that inexperienced kayakers fall into.
Just thought I'd mention that possibility...$.01 can help
They helped me get the right shaft

OK, who is going to be the first to
jump on this one ?



Apparently, you.

Reference Charlies question…my straight shaft is a 56 oal with a 20 inch blade. Were you implying that you think it may be on the long side for me? I do have a fairly long torso.

On shaft vs. oal length…agreed. I have four bents now…a zaveral medium z in a 52, a Whiskey Chaser in both a 50 and a 52, and a Whiskey River in a 50.

I got the 50 inch Whiskeys b/c of their blade length being slightly different from the Zav and trying to achieve same shaft length.

On getting a 51…agreed…totally…but the Whiskey paddles only come in 50 or 52. With the Zav…no problem. I can always cut it down.

Hand placement of the shaft hand I think is a critical issue in this decision.

If it truly is proper to hold closer to the blade with the bent then the shorter paddle may be the way to go. I will have to test it.

Basically I choke up farther with the longer paddle

Also…in thinking about this more…if the shaft hand is fixed at just above the blade then it would seem that the shaft length / oal length is really more a function of achieving a grip with the upper hand on the T grip that allows your hands to be shoulder width apart and not too wide or to close.

It would seem that the reaching the water the part is not so much an issue b/c that would be more of a function of your shaft hand placement which sounds like more of a constant.

thanks for the comments. This is helping me and I appreciate it.

Also a great point by Charlie about tripping and freeboard.


I’m no expert , but I know what I like

– Last Updated: Sep-28-09 10:35 AM EST –

To me the paddle shaft should be long enough so your top hand is at shoulder height as when you're planting the stroke and the blade should be buried in the water to just an inch or two below the throat. So it makes a difference whether you're paddling solo or bow or stern. It also matters how high your seat is hung. If you're primarily a bow paddler, your paddle should be shorter than what you'd normally use for solo or stern paddling. I use a 50" for bow, a 51" for solo, and a 51" (racing) or 52" (tripping) for stern.

Dumb question
Kayakers have some choice of adjustable length paddles. Are adjustable length canoe paddles not available?

Maybe not for permanent paddle, but for deciding best fit.

Something like - rent one from dealer/manufacturer, paddle a bit, decide the length, purchase that length.

You’d think they’d exist, but I’m not
aware of any.

Ok…I think that this post has helped me make my decision…thanks.

In holding the paddle just above the blade (instead of 6 or 8 inches above the blade as with a straight paddle ) it seems the shorter paddle is more appropriate.

When holding the paddle this way with the longer shaft my hands are wider than shoulder width apart and my top hand is pretty high during the stroke.

So I think that the shorter paddle is probably better for me.

thanks for your help!


Suiram and Yanoer … please email me
for more info here …

I have adjustable length shafts coming for canoe with a couple grip and blade options.

Really Jack ! … LOL.

Come on Pat.
I still haven’t seen that prototype of the bent shaft that is supposed to be floating around here.

Be safe from those higher waves that are headed your way from the Tsunami !



I knew you would be on me on this one
Yep, we were all ready to go down and pick up the little guy from school and head back up the hill yesterday.

Doing final blade molds in a couple weeks … Then show and tell.